Gone are the days when palatial homes, grand staircases and gardens the size of football fields were central to Bollywood dramas. An increasing number of film-makers now seem to be opting for the appeal of the small-town setting instead.
While director Sharat Katariya is the latest to follow this route — his recent release, Dum Laga Ke Haisha, is set in Haridwar, Uttarakhand — over the last few years, several other movies have ditched the big city life for the subdued charm of the small town.
Films such as Dabangg (2010; set in Lalganj, UP), Shuddh Desi Romance (2013; set in Jaipur, Rajasthan), Raanjhanaa (2013; set in Varanasi, UP), Goliyon Ki Raasleela: Ram-Leela (2013; set in a fictional small town called Ranjaar, Gujarat) and Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania (HSKD; 2014; set in Chandigarh, Punjab) and Heropanti (2014; set in a fictional small town in Haryana) are among the others that have been based in smaller or less explored towns and cities.
Katariya says the decision to set his film in Haridwar and Rishikesh was not a conscious one. “I didn’t think, ‘Let’s set the film in a small town, so that it’s a clutter-breaker’. Your story should be honest. If that’s taken care of, it doesn’t matter where the film is set,” says the director.
Shashank Khaitan, who directed HSKD, feels that a small-town setting brings a fresh feel to the screen. “As a result, the language, milieu and characters become more appealing too,” he says.
Apparently, Arjun Kapoor’s rumoured next, Sultana Daku, will also be set in a small town in UP.
There and back again
Turn back the clock, and you will find that till the mid-’90s — post which film-makers started basing their films in foreign countries — almost all the films starring top names like Govinda, Ajay Devgn, Akshay Kumar or Sunny Deol usually had a small town-connect. Now, over a decade later, the trend seems to be re-emerging.
What caused this turnaround? Experts contend that smaller towns constitute a majority of our population, and hence, life there reflects the real India. Plus, film-makers and audiences are keen on fresh content, since a large number of movies are set in the big cities.
“While shooting in Haridwar, it struck me that people in smaller towns are more humble, modest and simple, which is reflected in my characters. People from big cities are more complex,” says Katariya.
Trade analyst Taran Adarsh has a different reasoning. “Mumbai, for example, has been done-to-death on the big screen. If film-makers move to smaller towns, the setting and language can be novel,” he says. However, he adds as a word of caution, “But just setting a film in a small town can’t guarantee success.”
Khaitan feels that the “fascination for overseas locations — that was on a high until a few years ago — has gone down considerably” owing to increased exposure and reach of the Internet.